The Choice of Elros

Chapter 16

Chapter 16

The moon, high in the sky within the dreamscape where Andreth found herself, shone down upon the land below like a bright silver lamp as she found herself again in her dream, upon the grassy knoll overlooking an east facing shoreline. It was always the same, yet she never tired of it.

Lowering her eyes, she found herself in a soft white gown, much like the one she had worn earlier, with scooped neck and long, flowing sleeves. Though as always, a a single pearl suspended from a silver necklace, rested upon her soft flesh, just above the hem of her neckline. In her hair, she felt the familiar circlet of silver, and touched a hand to it, feeling the touch of the cool metal, and the pearl suspended from it, which matched the pearl on her necklace.

Drawing in a deep breath of air, Andreth looked about herself, wondering where her dream prince was. He had never been far away in these dreams, this perfect vision of Elros. But now, she could not see-

"The stars are no different than they are in the waking world."

His soft, strong voice came from not far away, and Andreth turned toward the sound, seeing her dream of Elros lying upon his back amidst the high green grass. As always, he wore finely woven breeches, and a richly embroidered tunic. And a circlet was on his brow as if he were a king.

"My lord," she said with a smile, moving to stand over him. "Your clothes are far too fine for lying upon grass. They may be stained."

"I am dreaming," he said, fixing his eyes upon her, and smiling, half rising upon his elbows. "So I can do as I please. My garb will not be harmed."

"How funny you speak, my lord," she teased dropping to her knees at his side. "I am dreaming."

"Of course," he agreed easily, reaching up to take her hand gently in his own. "But let it be. Come. Lie upon the grass. Look at the stars with me."

Andreth smiled and began to settle down in the grass beside him.

"No," he said, sitting fully up, and drawing her back up as well. "Do not lie beside me."

Andreth's lips parted in confusion. "But you just asked me to-,"

"Forgive me," he said again. "Being of my own mind, I thought you would understand without my explaining. Lie with your head beside mine, the rest of you lying so that your feet point south."

Andreth grinned at this, and complied, moving so that her body lay in the opposite direction of her dream prince, then settled onto the sweet smelling grass, her head beside his, and sighed as she lifted her eyes to the sky.

"They are the same," she observed, seeking, almost without thinking, his hand where it lay beside his head. Their fingers intertwined, long blades of grass woven through with their fingers. "And just as real."

"They are, and just as beautiful," he agreed.

Her dream prince turned his head, the grass rustling as he did, and Andreth turned as well, giggling at the sight of his face, upside down.

"Why, my lord," she queried, gentling squeezing his fingers as she spoke, "did you wish me to lay this way, rather than beside you?"

His smile faded to a soft, somber look at the question. A deep breath filled his lungs, and he hesitated before he spoke. "Because, fair one, when these dreams began, vivid and real as they are, I promised myself that I would never cross the bounds of propriety, no matter how tempted I was. I vowed that I would never touch nor kiss but your hand. And as beautiful as you are, I fear that were you to lay down beside me, your body beside mine, I may not be able to contain myself. For you, dream though you be, are the very image of Andreth Tindómiel, who is more beautiful than all the daughters of elves or men or Maiar. Though you already wear about your neck the pearl I carry with me always, and would see about her fair neck, if I could."

Her dream prince gently squeezed her fingers as he turned his eyes to the sky again. His voice became a reverent whisper. "When she walks, she moves as with the grace of an ocean wave; her body slender and supple as a young willow, her hair like russet and gold in the sun. I am entranced by her, and desire awakens in my blood when I look upon her. Yet I am alone with you, and none are here to remind me of my promise but myself. I wish to avoid the danger of breaking that promise."

"Oh," Andreth murmured, feeling warmth creeping over her body as she studied the lines of her dream prince's jaw, the tip of his peaked ear, the tresses of his dark hair pooled about his firm shoulders. She turned her eyes again toward the sky, more aware than before, of his strong, lean fingers woven through with hers.

"And I am more determined than ever now, to keep my word," her dream prince continued, "for I learned something tonight, in the cave which I showed my lady."

"What did you learn?"

"Speaking as if you were Andreth herself," he continued; she could feel the soft caress of his thumb against her fingers, "I learned that I do not wish to be parted from you. Light fills my very soul when I see your face, or think of you. I long for you. Hunger for you. But it is not only desire of the body when I look at you, Andreth Tindómiel."

He paused and finished in a whisper, "I am falling in love with you."

Andreth's heart stopped within her. This was only a confession of her dream prince, and not of Elros himself. Still, to hear such words in the tones of Elros' voice sent a wave of joy and grief surging wildly through her body.

"I think I understand now the path I must choose," he continued softly, his voice shaking as he spoke, "I know this will grieve Elrond. It grieves me to think of parting from him. He and I have been together from my earliest memory. But I must follow my path. The path the Valar have set for me. And I think- I hope- desperately, that you are to be a part of it."

Andreth sighed, uncertain what her dream prince meant. Perhaps it was just mere absurdity of her sleeping mind.

"I am mortal," she breathed to the sky. "You dare not love me, for I will grow old and die, while you-,"

"No, my beautiful Tindómiel," and by the rustling of the grass, she realized he was rising. She turned her head to look up into his face where he rose, propped on one elbow, gazing down into her eyes, his expression fraught with tenderness.

He lifted her hand, and as this dream vision so often did, pressed a tender kiss into her palm. How warm and real his soft mouth felt-

"I will not linger alone, bereft of you, for I and my brother are Peredhil and we have been given a marvelous choice between-"

Her dream of Elros vanished in an instant, disappearing as if he had not even been there. Her hand once holding his, closed upon empty air. He was gone.

Andreth sat up hurriedly, noting the long grass that had been pressed flat by his weight, springing slowly back now that he was not there. She cast her eyes about, longing to see him, though she knew she would not, before she drew her knees close, and hugged them, contemplating the words of her dream prince who looked and sounded so much like Elros. The swell of mingled ecstacy and fear still coursed through her. And now she knew why such emotions would war within her.

She was falling irredeemably in love with Elros, mighty elven lord though he was. And Andreth knew, in a moment of sudden clarity, both beautiful and terrible, that she did not wish to love any other.

...oOo...

"Elrond," Elros moaned, holding a hand up to block the light of the silver lantern above his face. "What are you doing? It is the middle of the night. And I was having a glorious dream."

The hand that had gently jostled his shoulder withdrew. Elros fell back against his pillow and threw his arm over his face to shield his eyes from the light as the indistinct form above him drew back a step.

"It is well past the middle of the night," a voice said, its owner withdrawing a pace. And at the voice, Elros thrashed quickly up again, shivering as his coverlet slipped down to his waist, the cool air brushing his bare chest.

"Morning is just on the other side of the horizon," Círdan said warmly as he set the silver lamp upon a table beside him. The silver haired elf's features became distinct, now that Elros was not blinded by his lamp, and he realized the ancient shipwright was clad as for travel, in breeches, tunic, and riding cloak.

"My lord, forgive me." Elros swung his legs over the side of his bed, and brushed his palms against the knees of his sleeping breeches. "I thought you were Elrond. What do you wish of me?"

He glanced over toward the window that shrouded his balcony. Sure enough, a dim blue light was seeping through, heralding the coming of the sun.

"There is nothing to forgive, young Elros," Círdan assured him with a warm grin. "If anything, I am in need of your forgiveness for what I am about to ask. For this request came most suddenly. Last night, as I was climbing up the hill from Mithlond, not long after the setting of the sun, I met young Master Hathel, the stonemason, coming down toward the city. He told me that he and a few of his men mean to journey to a new stone quarry this morning, and that he would be most appreciative of my help. He said he wished me and either you or your brother to go with him, to make certain the stone is of the proper quality. If so, we will help bring a new load of stone blocks back to the city."

"And you wish me to be the one to go with you," Elros surmised.

The ancient shipwright released a rueful breath. "Elrond is needed here. Young Andreth still has much to learn in the way of medicine and healing, and would suffer more with his absence than yours. We will be gone for over a week."

Elros felt a weight of disappointment settle in his chest. That would mean that he would miss much of the Harvest Festival. And he would be parted from Andreth as well, and in the company of Hathel, the prospect of which he did not relish. But he nodded, uncomplaining. "Of course. I can be ready for the journey within the quarter of an hour."

Círdan smiled at this. "I am most grateful, Elros. I will await you at the stables."

With that, the silver haired elf gave a nod, and opened the door, retreating out into the hall and drawing the door shut behind him.

Alone again, Elros bent his head, pushing the heels of his hands into his eyes to rub the sleep from them.

"Thus it is," he muttered softly to himself. "The morning I realized how I have come to feel for you, I am to be parted from you, Andreth."

He drew a deep breath into his lungs, then pressing his hands to his knees, shoved himself to his feet.

...oOo...

Andreth blinked, coming again to the waking world, and drew in a soft breath as her eyes opened to gaze up at the gossamer canopy above her head.

To her right, blue light filtered in through the curtains that led out to her balcony. The morning was not far away.

Sleep still pulled at her eyelids, but she had no more desire to sleep, now that she was awake. Her dream world, beautiful though it was, was not the same without the fair vision of Elros there.

Pushing back her coverlet, Andreth rose, hugging her arms to herself against the air that brushed through her nightgown to her skin beneath as she pattered across her room to her balcony, and pushed aside the curtain, pressing her hand against the glass that misted beneath her warm breath.

The world below was bathed in soft blue light, and to the west and north, the sky over the land where Firiel was probably starting to stir from sleep, was clear. The forests were beginning to change here and there, into shades of orange and red, though many trees still bore green leaves.

Andreth drew the door open, wishing to drink in more fully, the sweetness of the morning air, and padded out onto her balcony, moving to the railing to press her hands against the cool metal.

She shivered a little as the cool air of early autumn filtered easily through the thin cloth of her sleeping gown to her bare skin beneath, but Andreth did not care, grateful for the blue stillness of the morning, as she drank in the sweet air.

A soft equine wicker and the clopping of hooves brought her attention back from the distance, and Andreth dropped her eyes to the roof of the stable. She started when she noticed men gathered in the yard before the stalls of the horses. Three men, whom she recognized at once, despite the dim blue light of the morning.

Elros, his form tall, his hair long and dark, and his shoulders firm beneath the short cloak he wore, was garbed for riding in tunic and breeches, and supple riding boots. Lord Círdan too, appeared ready for a journey on horseback as he busied himself with saddling Celegben, Elrond's horse. Elrond, seeming to have come to see them off, held the reigns of Nórui, Elros' horse as his brother saddled his stallion, the two brothers clearly engaged in earnest conversation meant clearly for no other ears but their own.

Releasing a ragged breath, she tore her eyes away from Elros' strong, sturdy form, and turned her gaze northward back toward the home she had come from.

Perhaps it was best he was going away, though her soul wished he was not. Perhaps it would be best for Elros to be parted from her she thought, even as it idea filled her with sorrow, for then he could clear his head, and realize that there were elven maidens nearby, in this very city, far more lissom and fair than Andreth, and whom he would never lose to death.

Andreth swallowed thickly, and brushed her hands across her eyes, determined not to cry for him, or for herself.

When she looked back again, only Elrond stood alone before the stables, his eyes fixed away on what Andreth could not see.

...oOo...

The great door creaked as it opened, and Elros, his heart heavy, looked up to see his brother dropping down the steps and striding toward him where he stood, adusting a leather strap over the ears of his stallion, Nórui. Not far away, Lord Círdan was preparing Celegben, whom he was borrowing from Elrond, in a similar manner.

At Elrond's approach, Círdan lifted a hand in silent greeting. Elrond returned the gesture, though he kept his feet pointed toward his brother.

In silence, Elrond stopped at Nórui's head.

Elros nodded his thanks as his brother finished adjusting the bridle for him. Elros turned, and picked up the saddle from the ground.

"Did all go well, last night?" Elrond murmured, his hand moving along Nórui's neck.

Elros busied himself with his stallion's saddle, uncertain of what he would see in his brother's eyes if he met his gaze.

"Andreth and I had a pleasant walk along the sand," he said. "I took her around the bluff, and showed her where the arm of the forest comes down nearly to the sea. I showed her our cave, back within the trees and took her inside, though I fear it may have been too dark for her eyes. What she did see, seemed to please her."

"And?" Elrond murmured, his hand still moving slowly along Nórui's neck.

Silence rested between them for a long moment before Elros looked up. Elrond too, lifted his eyes, and met his brother's.

"I tried to kiss her, Elrond," he admitted.

Elrond's hand moving slowly along the stallion's neck, stopped in mid stroke. "She would not let you?"

"She would not, and I do not know what her feelings are, for me," Elros continued, hearing his voice roughening as his heart beat quickened.

"Even so," he sighed raggedly, "I realize now that I am in love with her."

To this, Elrond drew in a ragged breath, and swallowed fiercely, his entire body seeming to stiffen as if Elros had struck a javelin through him.

"Elros," Círdan called, his voice slicing the sudden tension between the two brothers like a knife. The silver haired elf swung to Celegben's back. "We must be off. We have a long journey before us."

"Yes my lord," Elros returned, his voice roughened as he too swung up to Nórui's back, gazing now, down into Elrond's stricken eyes, his heart wrenching within him.

Elros' jaw trembled. "Be kind to Andreth while I am gone."

Elrond nodded stiffly. "I will be," he vowed, though his words were a fierce whisper.

"And tell her-" Elros paused, "that I will return soon, though I do not know if such words would please her, or not."

"I will."

A glimmer of white out of the corner of his eye caught Elros' gaze, and he looked up, his heart swelling at the sight of Andreth, standing upon her balcony, looking away west and north. Hair, the warm color of honey spilled about her shoulders as her hands pressed the railing. Her arms were long and smooth and white, her white sleeping gown fluttering in the gentle breeze, pressing against her slender body, and outlining her alluring curves. She did not see him, and her eyes seemed sad.

Elros released a ragged breath before turning Nórui's head after Celegben, and trotting away. He turned back once to see Elrond, still standing where he had left him as still as a statue, watching after his departing brother.


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